Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Twilight of the Frontiers Iron Lady

On the 8th of February 2012, the former provincial President, the first woman directly elected to
 Pakistan's national parliament, application to become senator was rejected by the ANP party Parliamentary board. Coldly no explanation was formally offered and no sympathy shown by others.
Nasim Wali Khan discovered something which everyone had known for long. The nearly eighty year old former Iron lady of the Frontier, wife of the late Wali Khan, political career was over.

To understand her journey one has to rewind to the years between 1986 and 1989, nearly a quarter of a century back. It was a tumultous year in Pakistan, even more so for the three year old ANP (Awami National Party). It was the year 1989 and the party led by Wali Khan was at a cross roads. In his final years in parliamentary politics, Wali Khan tried to resurrect the old National Awami Party. The vision was a party with a national outlook, espousing secular, leftist politics and dominated by the core of what was the old 'red shirts'. Several attempts were made by leftists , ethno nationalists to once again unite again as they did in the 1950's to challenge the state. But things were changing in the frontier and power was shifting within the party. Here is one quite one sided perspective, by BM Kutty,  on an attempt by Baloch leader Ghous bux Bizenjo to merge his Pakistan National Party with the ANP.
 Skip to 12:20 to here his story..

In brief he attributed the failure of the merger to the veto held by Wali Khans wife, Nasim Wali, the most powerful female politician in the province. The party's alliance with the PPP eventually ruptured as well and Nasim Wali Khan was to lead the party into an alliance with their old rivals the Pakistan Muslim League and the ISI backed IJI. This led to many rebelling from the party in disgust and the end of any claim to national politics. One activist at the time bitterly commented at the time how he could not understand how 'we could sit in alliance with those we had only recently been cursing '.

Married to the redshirts
' Da zalmo Na Pora Na shwa
Fakhre-Afghana Jeenakai ba de Gatee'

(if the youth are not enough, the women who are the pride of the Afghans will carry the day )

The daughter of Amir Hoti, a Khudai Khidmatgars ( also known as red shirts ) and close associate of Bacha Khan. In 1954, she married Wali Khan, Bacha Khans son and political heir, whose first wife tragically died five years prior. Her early years gave little sign of her future political career till 1975, when Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto arrested her husband and banned the opposition of National Awami Party. Her husband facing treason charges under the Hyderabad Tribunal, step son in jail and with many NAP leaders in exile or arrested, Nasim Wali was left to champion their cause.

Resurrecting her husbands party under the new name of the National Democratic Party, the party recruited Sardar Sherbaz Mazari to formally lead the party. She campaigned nationally, her emotional speeches against Zulfiqar Bhutto started to attract large crowds. At this crucial time, in what would be a forerunner of her political pragmatism, she joined an alliance of religo-political partys united under the Pakistan National Alliance. Making history she won her seat in the 1977 election,  amidst widespread allegations of rigging. I protest against the allegations, she sided with an opposition protest against the government. Here at a crucal moment when the government was willing to call new elections she hesitated. Some allege she delayed an agreement after receiving assurances from the military and others say it was because of a lack of trust in Bhutto.  Whatever the reason the Military soon took over in 1977 and in an attempt to appease the opposition released her husband and many of the others in prison.

The politics of power

The second phase of her career started in the mid 1980's as the military began to withdraw from government (if not power) and the ANP was formed. By 1989, the party had split with a breakaway faction, first called the Qaumi Inqilabi Party and later Pakhtunkhwa Qaumi Party siding with the PPP. This was followed by Wali Khan, her husbands, defeat in the 1990 elections after which he retired from politics. 

She however won her own seat and took over as Provincial head of the party.

Her politics was one of political success, she achieved the distinction of the first woman elected he provincial asseembly. She led the party to repeated personal and provincial electoral success.  She reconciled with the military establishment and ruthlessly marginalised opponents including Wali Khans close friend and party ideologue Ajmal Khattak.

More importantly she articulated a new vision of Pashtun nationalism radically different from the regional appeal of Bacha Khan or from her husbands claim for national power within Pakistan. It was now  politics within a province defined by the renaming of the province to Pakhtunkhwa and stopping Kalabagh dam. She articulated this in an interview where she said 'I want an identity [. . .] I want a name change so that the Pakhtuns may be identified on the map of Pakistan '

Within the party by contrast, her politics were defined by the concentration of power in her own family of the Hoti tribe of Mardan. The patronising of the new Pashtun business class helped finance her party and her reconciliation with former ideological rivals the Pakistan Muslim League helped access the tools of state patronage.

A family of politics

Within the family, her daughter became the first female surgeon in the province, her brother was elected MNA and went on in 1997 to become Federal Minister for communication. On the other the ruthlessness extended in other ways when she sidelined her step son Asfandyar Wali, while aggressively promoting her brother Azam Khan Hoti. One report alleged Wali Khan had to intervene at one stage to ensure Asfandyar was allocated a party ticket.

What goes around

Things had turned full circle by 1999, the ANP-PML alliance had ended acrimoniously over renaming the province. Her brother was arrested on charges of corruption by the new Musharraf government. This was in turn followed the ANPs rout in the 2002 elections at the hands of the relio-political alliance. Nasim Wali Khan was decisively defeated in her home town. Finally this was followed by a split between her and Asfandyar Wali Khan, in which her brother sided with Asfandyar against her. This ultimately led to her ouster as party provincial president.

Withdrawing from active politics she also faced personal tragedy,  the death of her husband and the tragic death of her son Sangeen Wali. Ignored following the party 2008 election victory, she for some unknown reason decided to apply for one of the senate seats. Sitting on the board deciding her application were some of the people she had purged from the party twenty three years earlier.

Perhaps, the ruthlessness shown in rejecting her application reflects another change in the party she had nurtured for so long. The Awami National Party may have rejected her in the final calculation but they accepted the politics of power as her legacy.


 1: Nasim Wali: Victim of Cruel power politics   <>
 2: Interview with Ajmal Khattak   <>

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